RYDON PROJECT manager Simon O’Connor told the inquiry that he was ‘unaware’ of some of his responsibilities in the role ‘as it was his first’ project manager job.
The second phase began this year, with hearings delayed due to witnesses asking for assurances that ‘anything they say will not be used in criminal prosecutions’. This was granted and later extended. After resuming post suspension due to COVID-19, the first week saw a senior fire engineer state she ‘did not raise the need for any proposed cladding system to have a separate fire safety assessment’, while another was sent the cladding design report but did not view it.
Earlier this month, two fire consultants said they gave ‘no thought’ to evacuating disabled residents, before a reveal that Studio E and Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (RBKC) clashed over fire safety; another consultant ‘had no clue that cladding was part of the plans’. Last week, a Studio E architect said no drawing records were kept and ACM cladding was the ‘cheaper option’.
Over the last week, Rydon contracts manager Simon Lawrence’s evidence has been given, including that he admitted the company ‘overlooked’ a key document ‘regarding the fire hazards of certain cladding materials’ and relied on other companies to check subcontractors’ work. Earlier this week, he admitted it ‘did not check’ the ‘expertise’ of Studio E, and then admitted it ‘pocketed’ £126,000 from the switch to ACM.
Yesterday, he denied he had given assurances about the aluminium composite material (ACM) cladding not burning ‘at all’, while drawings were found to have been signed off incorrectly, before the inquiry heard there was ‘no evidence’ that Rydon employees working on the refurbishment had responded to emails ‘seeking clarification on cladding safety’. His final testimony covered Rydon’s naming of residents questioning the quality of work as ‘rebels’, and ‘persistent and aggressive’.
Most recently yesterday, Rydon’s project manager on the refurbishment – Simon O’Connor – admitted he ‘did not know’ about fire safety regulations, and was ‘not familiar’ with building regulations. Construction News has now reported on more of Mr Connor’s testimony, including that he was ‘not aware’ of certain responsibilities ‘as the role was his first project manager job’.
Inquiry counsel Richard Millett asked why, as project manager, ‘ would that not have been your responsibility, and in your mind [something] that you intended to carry out? To read the contract and look for the schedule of contract information?’. Mr O’Connor replied ‘not as such no, this was my first project as project manager’, before replying to another question on whether anyone at Rydon had given him ‘an induction or training into what to do’ with ‘no’.
He also claimed that he was given no guidance ‘about what he should be doing or what documents he should have been looking at’, with Mr Millett asking if he was ‘just left to his own devices’. Mr O’Connor disagreed and said he ‘did have support’ from Mr Lawrence and Rydon refurbishment director Stephen Blake, adding however that ‘there was no training or that sort of thing to say “make sure you read this or that document”’.
An email was shown from Mr O’Connor to Studio E architect Neil Crawford on 24 September 2014, which stated: ‘Following a FRA [fire risk assessment] yesterday on Grenfell Tower, the assessor asked if the London Fire Brigade (LFB) had been issued a copy of the building control application form for comment. Can you please advise if they were issued a copy.’
Mr Crawford replied later that day that ‘I am not aware if the LFB have been given a copy of the building control application for comment’, and Mr O’Connor was asked if he had ever ‘followed up’ on this conversation with anyone at Rydon, Studio E or LFB – he replied ‘I don’t believe so, I don’t recall. I know we had the fire brigade down on site quite often, but I don’t recall if it was regarding this’.
Another email from 29 September 2014 was shown from Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (KCTMO) senior building control surveyor John Hoban to Mr O’Connor, which read: ‘Concerning our brief discussion this morning relating to the Grenfell Tower project, please find details below of the last emails that I have in my possession relating to building regulation matters for your information.’
When questioned, Mr O’Connor said he ‘didn’t recall’ this conversation, and when asked if the subject line of the email – “fire strategy p2” – might ‘trigger a recollection’ about the conversation, he responded that ‘we [were] using the fire brigade service road to the right-hand side of the tower for storage, I may have asked him his thoughts on that’.